Ask Gerda: Tips for Healthy Immunity and Inflammation?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)
Dear goop, I want to do everything I can to support my immune system. Are there nutrients and herbs that can support a healthy immune response in a balanced way? —Katie C.
Hi, Katie. Great question, because we want a strong, healthy immune response, but we don’t want it to go overboard. We want to support our innate immunity: the physical barriers and white blood cells that are always guarding us. We want to support our acquired immunity: the antibodies and T cells that are generated in response to an infection or a vaccine. And the topic here: We want to support a balanced inflammatory response.
In order to do their job, white blood cells become activated, exit blood vessels, and enter tissues. When white blood cells are activated and found in tissues, this is called inflammation. It is a natural part of a healthy immune response. We want just the right amount of inflammation, not too little and not too much. Our bodies up- and downregulate this response as needed by making more or less of the white-blood-cell-activating cytokines.
Here are three ways to be supportive. But please note: This information is not intended to treat excessive inflammation or any disease. Always consult your doctor about any medical condition.
Turmeric and ginger are the botanicals most associated with a healthy inflammatory response. Buy fresh turmeric and ginger roots, and try this goop recipe for an unusually delicious spiced latte. Or use dried, powdered turmeric root as a spice in savory dishes. It adds a pretty golden color in this goop recipe for turmeric cashews.
Turmeric contains many bioactive compounds, and the one we know the most about is curcumin. Curcumin is an antioxidant that has multiple desirable effects on immune activation. In extensive cell culture research and some clinical studies, curcumin has been shown to help reduce the production of cytokines, like TNF-α and interleukins.
Turmeric and curcumin are available in multiple kinds of supplements, including special curcumin formulations, turmeric extracts, and turmeric root products. It can be difficult trying to figure out which one to choose.
Gaia makes a high-quality supplement that contains three turmeric root extracts and a standardized amount of curcumin. I like supporting Gaia—it’s a certified B Corporation, so we know it cares about sustainability, its employees, the environment, and transparency. Gaia is certified by the Living Wage Coalition of Transylvania County, part of Just Economics, an advocacy group for the fair-wage movement. Check out its gorgeous farm in North Carolina where it grows many of its herbs.
Curcumin is not very well absorbed by the GI tract. Gaia has added black pepper extract to increase curcumin’s bioavailability.
Probiotic bacteria, in many cases various species of lactobacilli, have been shown to reduce levels of CRP (a marker of inflammation), TNF-α, and interleukins in preclinical research, and even in people. Many different species, strains, and amounts of probiotics have been used in this research, and we aren’t yet sure which formulations are best. Seed makes a probiotic supplement with over 50 billion live cells from twenty-four strains to cover a lot of bases—including benefits for gut immunity, skin, and the cardiovascular system.
The probiotics are surrounded by an outer capsule containing prebiotics, which are food for bacteria. The outer capsule alone is amazing—pomegranate and pine bark extracts are two of my favorite plant extracts. If the bacteria share them with my gut cells, so much the better.
Comfort foods and indulgence may be what you want, and that’s okay. If you aren’t sticking to a whole-foods, nutrient-rich diet right now, don’t stress about it. But you may wish to consider a high-quality multivitamin, such as one of the five goop protocols. Key players here are zinc, vitamin C, copper, and selenium. And vitamin D, which we usually get from sunlight.
Here’s how these nutrients work:
- •Zinc is essential for the pathways through which the production of cytokines is controlled.
- •The killing of infected cells by white blood cells requires reactive oxygen species (ROS) that need to be mopped up. It’s like using bleach to clean: You need to keep it sequestered where it’s needed and then clean it up so that it doesn’t harm you. Zinc and copper are part of the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which inactivates harmful ROS. Proteins containing the trace mineral selenium also help deal with ROS during inflammation. Vitamin C is crucial here, too.
- •We bring up vitamin D when talking about all aspects of immune support because it’s multitalented: Vitamin D can help support a healthy inflammatory balance in our lungs.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.